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RECOVERY TIMES: Virgin Islanders Have Dug Out Since Hurricane Maria, But The Government Still Leaves Debris In The Middle Of Main Roads

That’s how Clinton Brown of Chicago described residents on St. Croix.

Brown is working as an American Red Cross volunteer here, helping after the devastation of Hurricane Maria.

“People on the island are upbeat despite their hardship,” Brown wrote in one of several email exchanges.

Email is the best way to communicate because of spotty cellphone service.

“We had a massive flash flood Saturday at sundown that flooded streets, stranded many cars and spread debris on roadways,” Brown wrote. “This set back many islanders who are trying to live under tarps or in their damaged homes.

Contrary to repeated public announcements in the Virgin Islands Daily News and announced over the radio by Gov. Kenneth Mapp last night, the American Red Cross across from Sunny Isles Shopping Center IS NOT a hot spot on St. Croix as the V.I. Free Press discovered by going there in person today.

“That is a lie,” Forest Thomas of the American Red Cross in Castle Coakley told the Virgin Islands Free Press today, adding that the hot spot is actually at D.C. Canegata Ballpark which the agency previously operated as a shelter prior to the evacuation of people there.

American Red Cross officials said privately that V.I. government officials acknowledged just days after Maria that the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority (WAPA) needed 2,000 linemen from the U.S. mainland to help with power restoration efforts, but only 200 are scheduled to come down in the first wave beginning Oct. 15.

“Tired, frustrated, exhausted, raw (and) emotional are words I would use to describe local islanders who have been impacted first by Hurricane Irma (in early September) and now by Maria,” which hit Sept. 19-20.

Brown is a Red Cross board member who received accelerated training as a volunteer when the agency asked for volunteers willing to work “under extreme hardship conditions” in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands (St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John), said Lyn Hruska, CEO of the Red Cross Central and Southern Illinois Region.

Brown wrote that, on St. Croix, there is no electricity, water has been contaminated by E. coli bacteria and there are no leaves on any trees, many of which have been blown down along with power lines.

“Curfews remain in effect from 6 p.m. to 10 a.m.,” Brown wrote. “Police patrol streets and monitor intersections.”

Brown is volunteering with Red Cross public affairs. “Lack of communication has hampered cooperation between the agencies and my role will be to add assistance to that effort,” he wrote.

About 1,000 damaged or destroyed homes have been assessed by Red Cross in St. Croix. “Assessment is slow as moving (through) neighborhoods is complicated by debris and … downed trees,” he wrote.

Red Cross has seven shelters on the Virgin Islands, including three on St. Croix, where hundreds of people, mostly older adults with medical needs, have been helped, Brown said.

In addition, Red Cross has several points of distribution where home cleanup kits, personal hygiene items, water and tarps are being distributed. Volunteers work 12-hour shifts.

“We are … squeezed into this tiny chapter house with fans and generators, trying to coordinate these efforts,” Brown wrote. “Red Cross staff and volunteers are going above and beyond.”

Brown is among more than 200 Red Cross volunteers and staff from Central and Southern Illinois who have been deployed to assist survivors of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria in eight states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, said Trish Burnett, Red Cross regional communications director.

In the past five weeks, nearly 13,000 Red Cross volunteers overall, partnering with community groups and governments, have provided 1.2 million overnight stays in emergency shelters, 5.2 million meals and snacks, 2.3 million relief items and 154,000 health services.

Other American Red Cross statistics:


  • On the U.S. Virgin Islands, 339 people stayed overnight in 5 shelters.
  • More than 680 Red Cross trained disaster workers are supporting relief efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and over 200 more are on the way.
  • Along with our partners, the Red Cross has served more than 607,000 meals and snacks across Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • We’ve distributed more than 392,000 relief items across Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

UNDER WATER: Gas station at the corner of the Melvin Evans Highway and the service drive for Sunny Isles Shopping Center days after Hurricane Maria hit St. Croix.

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy has been reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands since 1989. He is originally from Detroit, Michigan.